Friday, July 22, 2011

Another Cup: follow-up on Greg Mortenson post

Three articles have caught my eye in the months since my first post about Greg Mortenson and the accusations of wrongdoing within his Central Asia Institute (CAI).  Unsurprisingly, they drew my attention in part because they pick up on two main themes of my post: the difficulty of verifying development dollars on the ground (which works in Mortenson’s immediate defense) and the uneconomical/unsustainable nature of the CAI solution (a longer term but also more damning critique).

We’ll start with the good: a February report by 16 education aid agencies currently working in Afghanistan offers two vindications for the CAI, (the Guardian also provides a nice summary). The report and article both contribute an arbitrating neutrality, having been published before the CAI news broke.  Two key points as they pertain to the Mortenson story:

First, the report points out the overall impressive gains in female education that have taken place in Afghanistan since 2001.  On paper, $1.9 billion has been spent on education, 2,281 schools have been built, and female enrollment has jumped from 5,000 to 2.4 million.

Secondly, the report simultaneously draws attention to the fact that these gains are significantly inflated on paper.  Potentially 22% of those new students are classified as “long-term absentees”.  A shocking 47% of the 2,281 “schools built” have no physical building, and school closure due to insecurity remains a chronic problem.

For CAI, the first piece of news is certainly a positive indicator that their efforts have been having some effect – they have been part of that collective school building campaign.  Let’s not forget we’re talking about one of the least developed countries in the world that is still battling some very repressive views towards female education.  In such a context, those gains really are impressive, and CAI is part of that story.

The second vindication is more bittersweet in that it demonstrates that many of the 60 Minutes’ claims regarding the schools themselves – the claims that suggested far less on the ground success than CAI claims on paper – are in fact not at all unique to the CAI.  Given those statistics above, in fact, CAI may be having far more than the average success in getting schools open in Afghanistan.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Graduation Ball Waltz Video

On June 18 the liceu (high school) where I work hosted its annual Graduation Ball, which is the Moldovan version of a Graduation Ceremony rolled up in prom.  It is for all the graduates, as well as teachers, families, and the rest of the village in general.  The evening begins with the Ball, which includes speeches, flowers, and a releasing of the doves, and then moves on to a feast at the local banquet hall (normally used only for weddings), where the feasting, dancing, and toasting go until sunup, at which points the graduates depart their parents to watch the sun rise over a lake on the outskirts of town, and continue their celebration with barbecue and more feasting well into the next day.

Not so different from American Prom, this is the occasion when many boys buy their first suit, and the gown shopping for the girls, well, I guess some things just transcend cultures.

This year, the graduates decided they wanted to perform a waltz at their ball.  For reasons still unclear to me, they also decided I was the most qualified person to teach them how to waltz.

The trophy, erm, statue, I got for teaching.
So, beginning back in May, we started going over the basic waltz step.  A month and a half later, after most of the class became casualties and the traditional Viennese Waltz was declared "insane and impossible" due to its speed, the remaining four couples danced beautifully to the first waltz I've ever choreographed.

One of the beautiful things about Peace Corps is that one inevitably ends up teaching things one is dramatically under-experienced in and has little relation to the primary program assignment.  Prof. John Riker and Marcia Dobson, wherever you are, I'm glad I dropped in your ballroom dancing classes during that last month of college.

Oh, and afterwards, they embarrassed me with a far too gracious speech and this statue.  Very Moldovan.

Another beautiful thing about Peace Corps is that even when you don't fancy yourself a dance teacher, it doesn't make you any less proud of your students at the end.

So, without further delay, the Waltz of the Graduates.

(Email viewers will need to enable images to see video)